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Mt. Rainier hiker used body to save 2 others

June 13, 2008|From the Associated Press

SEATTLE — A hiker on Mt. Rainier sacrificed himself, lying down in the snow and using his body's warmth to save his wife and a friend from the 70-mph winds of a freak June blizzard, National Park officials said.

When it became obvious they could not find their way back to base camp in whiteout conditions, the friends dug a snow trench with their hands. Eduard Burceag, 31, lay down on the snow and his wife and a friend lay atop him. Later, when they begged him to switch places, Burceag refused.

"In doing so, he probably saved their lives," park spokesman Kevin Bacher said Thursday.

Mariana Burceag, also 31, survived, as did the couple's friend Daniel Vlad, 34.

Bacher called Vlad, who left his friends to seek help, a hero too. "It wasn't that he had the physical stamina to do it, but he had the mental will," he said.

Following Vlad's directions, rescuers found the Burceags.

Mariana was conscious but incoherent, ranger Kevin Hammonds said. Eduard was unconscious and had no pulse. Hammonds' emergency training told him to focus on the person most likely to survive.

Rescuers wrapped her up and took her to Camp Muir -- 10,000 feet up the 14,410-foot volcano. Then they returned for Eduard Burceag. Attempts to revive him failed.

The medical examiner confirmed Thursday night that he died of hypothermia.

Hammonds said the three were experienced hikers and were dressed properly for a spring hike in warm winter jackets, wool hats and gloves, and good boots. The Romania natives live in Bellevue, a suburb of Seattle.

Reached by telephone in Romania, Eduard Burceag's brother, Cristian, told the Seattle Times that his older brother moved to America eight years ago and fell in love with Seattle.

"I can't find words about him," the younger Burceag said. "When he left for America, he took his life in his hands and made a great career."

Cristian Burceag said his mother was visiting his brother and was watching their two young boys while Eduard and Mariana hiked.

He said he was not surprised his brother died shielding his wife.

"He was a hero for us," he said. "I'm sure he would do that. He knew very well that his children needed a lot of their mother, and that was the main thing in his life."

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